A dark room. A single white light pierces the dim darkness. It centers on a girl, sitting in a chair. A young adult, wearing simple clothing and looking malnourished. She stares into the camera that faces her, and the man behind it, with tired, dazed, but petulant eyes.
"What is your name?" asks the monotonous voice behind the camera.
Her voice, begrudgingly: "Ari Michaelson."
The disrespect in her tired voice grows to full-blown anger now. "Two."
"All right, Ari. If you could place your hand in the center of the pad."
There's a pedestal beside her, on which rests a small, flat, green surface that looks like a tablet computer. Ari rests her hand upon it, palm down. Immediately it begins to buzz and hum.
"Did it do that for Hannah, too?" says Ari. Her voice is full of disgust.
The man behind the camera does not reply.
Where Ari's hand touches the pad, it quite obviously begins to hurt her, for she pulls her hand back as if she's been stung. "What the hell are you doing to me?"
"It's just a test. It'll be over in a moment. Please relax and put your hand back on the pad."
"Oh, over?" she demands. "Over, like it was for Hannah?"
"Please relax. Place your hand on the pad."
"No," she snaps.
"Put your hand on the pad now, or I will call in security measures."
"Ha!" she exclaims, her red-rimmed eyes coming alive. "Someone to fight! Finally! Bring it on."
A long, long sigh from the man behind the camera. "Miss Michaelson, if you don't stop causing trouble, you will go the way your friend Hannah did. Her death was an accident, but I assure you, yours won't be."
"Oh, is that a real threat? Finally, we're out in the open and being honest with each other. I thought you weren't allowed to kill your subjects."
"I'm not," he stresses. "Not unless one of them causes an undue amount of trouble. And I am allowed to decide exactly what 'undue' means."
"So what did Hannah do? Bend down to tie her shoelace or something? Was that the 'undue amount of trouble' she caused?"
"Miss Michaelson, I did not purposefully cause the death of your friend Miss Smith. That is all I am willing to say on the matter. Is that enough to calm you down, or do I need to call in security?"
"Bring it on," she laughs bitterly. "Bring it right on. I'll kill them all before they kill me."
"Miss Michaelson," he says. "You don't seem to know exactly what would happen to you if I called security measures into this room. They would not waste time throwing punches with a little girl like yourself. They would taser you until you were dead. So you can abandon your little fight fantasies, because it's not going to happen. You are not showing bravado by acting like a big tough wrestler who can take on anything she comes across. You are only showing how foolish you are, and how much of a death wish you have."
She only stares at him, doesn't say a word.
"Because I don't see a big tough wrestler," he says softly. "I see a little girl child who is far, far out of her element and who would do very well to listen to orders if she wants to get out of this building in one piece."
Still she says nothing.
"This is not a game," he says. "I think you know that by now."
Ari licks her lips. Purses them. Weighs her options. Clearly she has been cast into doubt.
"Now please relax and place your hand on the pad."
"My parents," she says. "My parents volunteered me for one week. One week. I've been here for what, three months? They're going to come looking for me, you idiot. They're going to send the police after me. What do you think will happen then?"
"Your parents are not going to come looking for you," he says. "You are on your own."
"What? How can you guarantee that? What've you done with them?"
"I am not here to make conversation with you. I am here to test you. Please relax and place your hand on the pad."
"You will, or you will die."
"This is illegal, you son of a bitch," she says, desperately stalling, biding for time. "This is against the law. This is torture, child endangerment. You're going to be in a heap of trouble when—"
The man behind the camera reaches for his walkie-talkie. Presses the button. Speaks. "We've got a containment issue," he says. "Please send in security measures."
"I'm not afraid—I'm not afraid of your stupid security measures," she sneers, even though the fear on her face shows this is an obvious lie. "You can't kill me. It's illegal. I signed up for this publicly."
"You signed up," says the man, "for an experiment that you knew could possibly result in a fatal accident. Electrocution, one way or another. An accident—something that you knew could be part of the job when you read the contract. It's what happened to your friend Miss Smith, and it's what your parents will believe happened to you. No one will ever investigate. No one will ever know the difference."
She turns the palest shade of pale, and then the door creaks open. Three men stream into the room, all dressed in the blue outfits of security guards. All carrying tasers, out and armed and ready.
"Is this the containment issue?" asks their leader, pointing towards Ari.
"Yes," says the man behind the camera smoothly. "Proceed."
"No," says Ari as they move toward her. And then louder, in a screech, in a desperate yell, "No! Please. I've learned my lesson. Please don't taser me. Please don't kill me. I'm done. I'm done. No, please—"
"Stop," says the man behind the camera. The men stop their advance, lower their weapons.
"Please leave the room," says the man.
The man turns to the girl, who's pale as death and shaking. "Not so brave after all, are you?"
"Leave me alone," she weeps. "Just leave me alone."
"Please place your hand on the pad and relax."
"For God's sake, why not?" he demands, exasperated. "What makes you risk being tasered to death by security guards in order to avoid the simple act of putting your hand on a pad?"
"Hannah died from it," she whispers. "Hannah got electrocuted to death by this thing. I saw her body. She was zapped, and burned. Burned all over. Her hair was standing up."
"Miss Smith," he says, "had the idiocy to bring a bottle of water into this room without my knowledge. The test was progressing smoothly until she pulled out the bottle with her other hand and began to drink. She spilled it on the pad and was killed. If you have not brought a bottle of water in with you, then you will be absolutely fine, and free to return to your family after this experiment is done."
Ari has recovered from her tears, and her face is red now, not just with crying but with anger. "Three months of training," she says. "Three months of all this exercising, and doing puzzles, and aptitude tests, and taking all those pills that turned our organs to mush. Three months of feeling like shit and being kept in one of two rooms and seeing no one but twelve other girls and a bunch of doctors whose faces I never even see. And for what? For me to place my hand on this fucking iPad for five minutes and then go home? What is this all for? I know it's not an experiment to test how well teenagers do on airplanes, so what the hell is it? I think you owe me an answer or two. And I'll have my answers before I place any limb on my body on this stupid fucking iPad."
"Here's what will happen," says the man behind the camera. "You will place your hand on the pad. You will keep it there until I say, no matter what you feel. You will do everything I say, then I will release you, and you will receive no answers whatsoever and be happy you're alive and live the rest of your life in blissful ignorance. Either this will happen, or the other option will, which is that I call security measures, they taser you until your heart stops, and I call in Subject Three to take your place."
"Not Marin," whispers Ari. "She's just a little kid."
"If you want to prevent Miss Sykulski from having to take your place, then you will place your hand on the pad, now." His voice and face are very, very stern: a warning that he has had enough of Ari's nonsense. More than enough.
Ari places her hand on the pad. Flat, palm down.
"Good," he says, reaching for his clipboard and a pen. "Now keep it there until I say."
She does. It begins to sting: this can be seen in the wincing in her face, in the pain in her eyes. But she thinks of Subject Three, and keeps her hand flat on the surface.
The tablet now glows with yellow and orange lights that swirl around Ari's hand. Clearly the device is feeding data to the man behind the camera, because he keeps looking at his phone and writing feverishly on his clipboard.
"What's it saying about me?" asks Ari, her voice tiredly petulant again.
"None of your business," says the man behind the camera.
Waiting, and waiting, and waiting. The pain that the device gives Ari ebbs and flows, as evidenced by the ebbing and flowing of the wincing on her face. Finally, after what seems like an age, it's over.
"Please take your hand off the pad," the man instructs.
Ari does, and looks at it. Bizarrely, it's stained yellow, but seems otherwise undamaged.
"Please go back to your room and pack your things," says the man behind the camera. "You will be escorted by Dr. Horeck, as usual. She will take you to a car waiting outside."
"Why?" asks Ari as she stands, and wavers on her feet, far more tired than before. "Where am I going?"
"You're being transferred to another facility," says the man, not looking up from his phone and his clipboard. "A larger one. Your tests will continue there."
"You son of a bitch, you said I'd be returning to my family!"
"Yes, well," he says dismissively, "it's just business."
Ari's expression is between a scowl and tears, but she knows it's pointless to fight. Instead she will bide her time, waiting, always looking for a way out.
As she goes towards the door, her name is called by the man behind the camera. "Ari," he says. She turns around.
"I would like you to know," he says, "that you've given me a lot of usable material today. A lot of good information. This thirty minutes of your time has been very, very valuable for me. Invaluable, even, especially after the failure of Miss Smith's test; I'm quite glad I did a successful one. I'd like to thank you for that."
"Fuck you," she says, and slams the door shut behind her.